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WORKSPAN
FUTURE LOOK |

Avoid the Doomsday Skill Gap: Reskill and Upskill


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Among the many learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic was the realization that the labor market is more fragile than we think. The spread of a viral disease turned the global economy on its head and necessitated swift economic interference from governments across the world.

In the United States, trillions of dollars were spent by the federal government in an attempt to offset the economic disruption the coronavirus created. A grim April jobs report coupled with increased concerns of inflation paint a picture of an uncertain future for the labor force. To wit, the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020” found that 43% of companies will reduce their workforce by 2025, while 34% will expand it and 41% will increase the use of specialized contractors. The report also noted that 97 million new jobs will be created versus 85 million old jobs being displaced.

A more recent report by Faethm and Boston Consulting Group projected that the U.S. will experience a 1-4% shortfall in its workforce by 2030, or, roughly between 600,000 and 12.5 million people. “The Future of Jobs in the Era of AI” report drew its findings from three technology adoption scenarios. In all three models, the increasing adoption of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and other technologies suggested that the role of humans in the economy will shift dramatically, impacting millions of jobs across blue-collar and white-collar roles in areas like administrative and office support. COVID-19 hastened this effect in 2020 by accelerating technology adoption, the report authors noted.

All of these statistics and projections underscore an important need for employers to facilitate their employees closing the skills gap by pouring more resources into development programs.

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“The world of work and the nature of jobs are changing more rapidly than ever before. In many fields, a four-year degree won’t sustain an employee over their lifetime, so it’s vital that employers implement strategies that not only fill open positions, but support career development for current employees at every level,” said Balraj Kalsi, senior vice president and general manager of online skills at Cengage. “This includes upskilling opportunities, but also reskilling employees to qualify for openings in other departments. A member of your customer service team could be a very successful digital marketing expert if given the right opportunities and training.”

Another way employers can begin bridging the skills gap is by changing their approach to recruiting and hiring, Kalsi said. For most organizations, the basic requirement to qualify for full-time, entry-level hiring is a traditional four-year college degree. This, Kalsi said, is unnecessarily limiting the talent pool and leaving out candidates who have completed online training and certifications.

“Many people are not able to access or afford traditional degree tracks, especially if they are still out of work,” Kalsi said. “Online courses and credentialing are more attainable options and equip candidates with the required skillsets for open technical roles. Employers should examine their hiring requirements and remove unnecessary barriers that limit their pool of job applicants.”

The Faethm and Boston Consulting Group research highlighted that the jobs most likely to be automated are those that fall under administrative support roles, which they estimate will result in a surplus of 3 million displaced workers by 2030. Thus, it would behoove employers to reskill and upskill this segment of the workforce to areas where more human-centric skills are required.

“Automation of mundane, repetitive tasks in legal, accounting, administrative, and similar professions will mean that core human abilities — such as empathy, imagination, creativity, and emotional intelligence, which cannot be replicated by technology — will become more valuable,” said Stephen Farrell, vice president at Faethm. “The U.S. needs a labor force that has the right composition of skills to meet the needs of the digital age, which demands public and private sector actors to upskill and reskill on a large scale.”

For organizations that are interested in investing in their workforce of the future, George Elfond, CEO of Rallyware, a performance enablement company, offered a three-pronged approach to upskilling and reskilling:

  • Gather data: “A good start would be to leverage people analytics because it will allow you to design and implement more strategic talent decisions. Align the data with your business questions and focus on people and business metrics instead of navigating your initiatives blindly.”
  • Encourage knowledge sharing: “Empower collaborative work at all levels of the workforce. Transitioning existing employees into new positions is more cost-effective than hiring new employees.”
  • Implement a performance enablement solution: “Performance enablement technologies allow companies to build a resilient and adaptable workforce by connecting performance data to the personalized learning experience.”

The pandemic no doubt accelerated the adoption of more technology as the working world became increasingly remote. However, if organizations continue to invest in the growth and development of their people, the doomsday skills gap scenario could certainly be avoided. 

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.